- United States
Melanie Yazzie, Navajo/Diné, United States
Height: 29 in. Width: 22.5 in.
Gift of Melanie Yazzie and Clark Barker, 2007.4155
Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2012. All Rights Reserved.
About the Artist
Born in 1966, Melanie Yazzie grew up on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree at Arizona State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she is now an associate professor of art. Yazzie works in a variety of media including printmaking, painting, sculpture, installation art, and ceramics, and has led several collaborative international projects with artists in New Zealand, Siberia, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Japan.
Yazzie’s artwork explores themes of childhood memories, travel and transformation, the role of women in Navajo culture, post-colonial dilemmas, and her personal health. “The work I make is about my personal experience as a Navajo woman in today’s society,” she says.
What Inspired It
The overall concept of this piece was inspired by Yazzie’s work with the community and her efforts to educate students about Native American stereotypes. She was shocked when she went to speak to a school class and saw that the children were given a worksheet with stereotypical images of Indians under the same prompt that appears at the top of her print:
Circle the Indians in each row that look the same. Color the pictures.
“I looked at [the worksheet] and thought I do not look like these [nor does] anyone I have ever known. I decided to take the art project and make one of my own, inserting my own childhood image,” Yazzie explains.
The title of the print and the instructions at the top are exactly the same as those on the worksheet that was given to the elementary school children.
The image of Yazzie as a girl doesn’t resemble the cartoonish Indians at all. By inserting her image into each row, Yazzie makes it obvious which “Indians” look the same and makes the point that Native Americans are individuals, not types.
According to Yazzie, the background color and pattern resemble a turquoise stone. Turquoise plays a large role in Navajo religious ceremonies and is prominent in Navajo jewelry. It is thought to promote healing and good luck.